You know that fight-or-flight feeling: tense muscles, pounding heart, rapid breathing, and sky-high blood pressure. We're a nation of stressed-out workers tackling too many tasks, and an endless supply of office scenarios can trigger that response.
You're scrambling for funding. You find a major mistake in the marketing materials. You're in constant conflict with a co-worker. You're staying late to keep the client happy by meeting a completely unrealistic deadline.
As a small-business owner, everything falls on your shoulders, except the overtime pay to make up for the overload. But easing your entrepreneurial stress could be as simple as clearing your mind, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows practicing mindfulness activates your body's relaxation response, which physically changes the genes that regulate inflammation and metabolism. That change, in turn, lowers your blood pressure.
Having spent my career in busy print and broadcast newsrooms, always rushing to meet multiple daily deadlines, that fight-or-flight feeling became part of my routine. But while my mind was comfortable racing, my body was burning out. I needed mindfulness more than anyone I knew, which is why I'm now teaching it to busy executives.
The more I practiced mindfulness at work, the more I was able to climb out of my anxious mind and connect back into my body. I became more present; more productive. I learned how to respond to workplace conflict, rather than react to it. And that fight-or-flight feeling disappeared, even though my deadlines have remained constant.
So it comes as no surprise that these Harvard researchers found physical proof of the benefits of mindfulness. Want to experience these benefits for yourself? Here are two easy techniques. They're favorites among my stressed-out clients. You can use them at your desk, in a meeting, or anywhere you find yourself feeling your blood pressure beginning to rise.
1. Mindful breathing with a twist.
One of the tools researchers used in the study was mindful breathing. When we're stressed, we take shorter, shallower breaths.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing boosts the flow of oxygen throughout your body, increasing calm and clarity, while decreasing anxiety and blood pressure.
And if you add in a gentle twist, you're sending fresh new blood and oxygen into your body and brain, supporting your physical health and mental clarity. This is a great technique to use before or after a stressful meeting or conversation.
Start with a slow, deep breath in. Take in as much air as feels comfortable.
As you breathe out, gently rotate your rib cage to one side until you feel a "wringing out" sensation. Like you're squeezing water out of a washcloth.
Breathe in, slowly returning to center.
On your next exhale, slowly rotate your rib cage to the other side. Breathe out completely.
Then inhale back to center. Repeat as many times as you'd like.
2. Mindful breathing with a mantra.
Another mindfulness tool the researchers used in the study was mantra repetition, which involves focusing on a single word. Combining this with mindful breathing can help you clear your mind and come back to your center, minimizing distractions and maximizing productivity during your work day.
First, think of a one-word quality you'd like to cultivate--something you'd like to experience more of in your day. Some suggestions: peace, calm, patience, balance, focus.
Inhale slowly, and say the word silently.
Visualize yourself filling up with it. If it's calm, for example, visualize the quality of calm coming into your body right along with the air.
As you exhale, feel the air leaving your body. Emptying out, set the intention to let go of whatever is standing in the way of calm, or whichever word you chose.
Sometimes as I breathe out, I say silently "I let go of whatever is standing in the way of calm." Other times, I just focus on the air emptying out and the feeling of letting go. Find what works for you.
Whether or not you have high blood pressure, just a few minutes of these techniques can be enough to activate the relaxation response, bringing your business mind from frazzled to focused, and your body from stressed-out to serene.